The Practice of Mindfulness
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness refers to being present in the moment, paying attention to your surroundings and your actions. Humans have a basic ability to be present in the moment, but it is easy for your mind to wander. The practice of mindfulness doesn't require a person to change as it cultivates human qualities that already exist. It is a form of meditation that normally focuses on paying attention to the body and allowing time for the body and mind to relax.
The origins of the practice are thought to be rooted in Buddhist philosophy, but it can be practised by anyone who wants to train their mind as it doesn't enforce a particular belief system.
The Possible Benefits
Mindfulness is thought to help mental well being. It has been suggested that it may help with issues such as stress, anxiety and depression. Professor Williams, formerly of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, states that when we allow ourselves to see the present moment clearly, we can change the way we see things in a positive way. Mindfulness can make us more aware of our thoughts and feelings, but also help us see when our thoughts are taking over in an unhelpful way. The theory behind mindfulness is that you can train your mind to realise when your thoughts are taking over and deal with issues more productively.
Professor Williams suggests that this kind of awareness may help people to notice signs of stress and anxiety, and therefore deal with them.
There is evidence that the practice of mindfulness can help with mental well being, but research in ongoing and it should be noted that the practice may not be helpful for everyone.
How To Practice Mindfulness
To practice mindfulness it is not necessary to set aside a large amount of time to meditate. It can be something that is integrated into your daily life. Many people spend a lot of time on 'autopilot', not paying attention to what is going on around them. Small things such as being aware of sensations are part of being more mindful. Examples include the sensation caused by the food we are eating or the feel of the breeze on our body. It may be difficult at first as it can require practice, but trying to pick a regular time to be mindful each day may be useful. This could be on your commute to or from work or on your lunch break.
Although not necessary to set aside spare time to meditate, some may find it useful. This can be for as little as a few minutes, and involves sitting silently while paying attention to how your body feels, the sounds around you and your thoughts. It is normal for your mind to wander while doing this, but when it does just try to bring your attention back to the meditation.
Here's an example of a mindfulness exercise that you can try that focuses on breathing.
1. Start by sitting comfortably. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth slowly. Ideally each breath cycle should take around 6 seconds, but you can adapt it to what is comfortable for you.
2. Try to let go of your thoughts, not thinking about what you have done today or what you need to do. This can be difficult, so thoughts will probably enter your head at first.
3. Pay attention to your breath, and try to be aware of how your body feels.
You can try this for just a minute or two at first, then increase the length of the exercise.
This is just one example of a way that you can practice mindfulness. You can also try exercises based on observation, listening or appreciation.
The main thing to remember is that mindfulness takes practice, so it may take a while for you to feel the benefit. There are many online resources that can help with mindfulness practice.
© 2018 Natalie Cookson